Definition of Psi Science: “The rigorous on-going scientific pursuit of experimenting and testing the validity and reliability of so-called psychic or paranormal phenomena. Common psi abilities include such things as mind-to-mind connections (telepathy), mind-over-matter interactions (psychokinesis), perceiving distant places, people, objects, or events (clairvoyance), perceiving the future (precognition), prophetic dreams, déjà vu, spiritual healing, the power of prayer and intention, intuition, gut feelings, and the sense of being stared at.”
The tendency of most people is to let loose a guffaw or two upon seeing an article titled, “Psi Science.” “It’s probably going to be really short,” you may have thought, or, alternatively, “It’s going to be filled with a bunch of wild claims.” Neither, actually. This article will be longer than you anticipated and drier than you would like.
How can we prove whether psychic phenomena exist if scientists haven’t conducted any studies?
They have. There is a body of research spanning the last 100 years that investigates psychic phenomena from telepathy to psychokinesis to remote viewing. A brief sampling includes:
– Stanford University Studies on ESP and psychokinesis, 1911 – onward.
– Duke University Studies on ESP, 1934-1939: Fifteen of 17 studies (88%) showed positive results.
– Non-Duke University Studies on ESP, 1934-1939: Twenty of 33 studies (61%) showed positive results.
– Princeton University Studies on Psychokinesis Using Random Number Generators (RNGs), 1959-1987: Results showed odds against chance beyond a trillion to one.
– Ganzfeld Studies, 1974-1981: Fifty-five percent of the 42 experiments reported statistically significant results whereas only 5% would have been expected to do so if chance alone had been operating.
– Autoganzfeld Studies, 1983-1989: Results from the 11 studies showed an overall hit rate of 34% (only 25% expected by chance). To put this into perspective, while the difference between 34% and 25% doesn’t look like much, the study that determined that aspirin reduced the risk of a heart attack – and which was heralded as a major medical breakthrough – showed effects that were ten times smaller than the effect observed in these autoganzfeld studies.
– Autoganzfeld Replication Studies, 1989-1995: The University of Amsterdam conducted 124 sessions with a hit rate of 37%. The University of Edinburgh conducted 97 studies with a hit rate of 33%. The University of Parapsychology, North Carolina conducted 100 sessions with a 33% hit rate.
– United States Government STAR GATE Program, 1978-1995: Much of this is still classified, but this program conducted, among other things, remote viewing activities. The Stanford Research Institute was a USG contractor for this program.
There have been countless other studies, but I focused on the above experiments because they were conducted by reputable organizations and were very large. For a more exhaustive review of the history of psi science research, I recommend reading Dean Radin’s The Conscious Universe, Chris Carter’s Science and Psychic Phenomena, and Robert Schoch’s The Parapsychology Revolution. If you’re interested in recent and on-going peer-reviewed studies, look at the websites of the Society for Psychical Research (a scholarly research organization established in the UK in 1882) or of the American Society for Psychical Research (an American psychical research organization established in 1885).
But did these studies adhere to the standards required in real scientific studies?
Beginning in 1911, scientists and academic institutions began to conduct psi experiments in laboratory settings to examine whether positive results could be obtained under controlled conditions using scientific methods. Skeptics criticized the earlier experiments for possible flaws that included: selective reporting, experimenter bias, multiple-analysis (applying different criteria to the data in order to determine a “success”), sensory leakage (the so-called greasy fingers hypothesis – in telepathy experiments, for example, an individual might subconsciously notice that a target figure had been handled more than a non-target figure), inadequate randomization, and/or intentional cheating.
Psi science experimenters took steps to overcome possible flaws in their work. Princeton University’s use of Random Number Generators (RNGs – a computational device designed to generate a sequence of numbers or symbols that lack any pattern) beginning in 1959 helped address much criticism.
Ganzfeld experiments, which use sensory deprivation, were also put into use. These experiments were designed to detect subtle telepathic abilities that are normally drowned out by the noise of everyday life. In a ganzfeld session, a sender observes a randomly selected target and tries to send this information mentally to the receiver. The receiver speaks out loud during the session, describing what he or she can see. The autoganzfeld method, introduced in 1983, uses a computer to control the experiment to address possible flaws such as lack of true randomization or sensory leakage. In the session, the computer chooses the target image and neither the experimenter nor the receiver can monitor events inside the sender’s room, which is also acoustically sealed and electormangetically shielded.
I won’t comment on the U.S. Army’s remote viewing program other than to refer people to Frederick (Chip) Atwater’s Captain of My Ship, Master of My Soul, and Joseph McMoneagle’s Memoirs of a Psychic Spy: The Remarkable Life of U.S. Government Remote Viewer 001
What did the research conclude?
The results show that something is going on. In the original Ganzfeld studies, 55% of the 42 experiments reported statistically significant results when only 5% would have been expected to do so by chance alone. Critics claimed possible investigator bias, so 14 of the original studies were thrown out. Nonetheless, 23 of the 28 remaining studies showed greater than chance expectation results, and 43% yielded significant results (25% would be expected by chance alone) – the odds against this were a billion to one. Due to criticism of the experiment design and how the sessions were conducted, even more studies were discarded. Still, the final outcome was that these remaining experiments produced significant results at the odds of 10,000 to one against.
As scientists tightened experiment design controls and applied more rigorous standards – and still observed significant results – skeptics began resorting to criticizing the math. ….And now is where we get deep into statistics, effect sizes, sample sizes, unweighted averages, combined averages, p-values, meta-analyses and so on and so forth. I won’t go into that – read the Radin and Carter books for yourself.
Has anybody conducted studies that disprove psi phenomena?
In 1988 the National Research Council (NRC) produced a report, Enhancing Human Performance, in which it stated, “The committee finds no scientific justification from research conducted over a period of one hundred thirty years for the existence of parapsychological phenomena.” This report was requested by the U.S. Army Research Institute to help it evaluate various techniques of enhancing human performance, such as sleep learning, guided imagery, meditation, telepathy and clairvoyance.
How did NRC come to this conclusion? When forming subcommittees to investigate the different areas of the study, the NRC appointed Ray Hyman to head the parapsychology subcommittee. At this time, Hyman was a member of the executive council of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP), an organization that is dedicated to proving parapsychological phenomena do not exist. The only psi studies evaluated in the report were the ganzfeld experiments that had previously been criticized by Hyman. That Hyman had ultimately agreed only two years previously that “there is an overall significant effect in this database that cannot reasonably be explained by selective reporting or multiple analyzes” and that “significant outcomes have been produced by a number of different investigators,” is not mentioned in the NRC report. While it is common for the NRC committee to commission “expert reports” from outsiders in order to ensure objectivity, a balance of views and a range of expertise, the only expert report commissioned in this instance was from psychologist James Alcock, also a member of CSICOP and well known for his books and articles attacking parapsychological research. This breach of objectivity – plus the limited range of psi phenomena/studies examined – puts the validity of the NRC’s conclusions into question.
The NRC’s conclusions on remote viewing (RV) were similarly negative: “By both scientific and parapsychological standards, then, the case for remote viewing is not just very weak, but virtually nonexistant.” While this seems to be clear cut, no where in the report does it acknowledge that the NRC investigators were neither allowed to review the U.S. Government’s RV program nor talk to any of the officials involved because they lacked the security clearances required for access to this information. The NRC report, therefore, did not consider the scientific protocols developed and carried out by the federal government.
There are other negative studies, most of which consist of criticism of psi research, but which do not contain original research of their own (these are just criticisms of other peoples’ studies; they don’t bother conducting any experiments themselves). One exception is psychologist Susan Blackmore, a fellow of CSICOP, who in 1996 claimed to have spent “20 years failing to find the paranormal.” However, some who examined her work have pointed out that she applied a double standard to her experiments. When her experiments seemed to show evidence of psi, the results were dismissed as due to flaws in the experiment. But when the results did not seem to show evidence of psi, she simply ignored the quality of the study.
But if psychic phenomena are real, why hasn’t anyone won James Randi’s million-dollar challenge?
James Randi, one of the founding members of CSICOP, is a retired stage magician and scientific skeptic, well known for his challenges to paranormal claims. He has worked to debunk psychic claims, and received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1986 to investigate faith healers, several of which he revealed as frauds (Wikipedia’s entry on “Peter Popoff” is a good example). He has offered to give a USD $1 million prize to eligible applicants who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.
This sounds reasonable on the surface, but Randi’s website makes clear that his challenge will not likely be an objective test of psychic phenomena, and potential applicants are urged to get a complete physical and mental workup from a doctor to make sure they aren’t mentally ill. In a previous version of the FAQs to Randi’s challenge, it was stated that the JREF (the James Randi Educational Foundation) would refuse to investigate claims that “border on the miraculous.” It was also stated that “Of course, when confronted with a particularly incredible claim like “remote viewing” (the current version of “clairvoyance”) we can easily stop short and ask ourselves just why we are involved with such obvious nonsense.” While these specific quotes have been taken down and replaced with more neutral language, it is clear that the test environment will be antagonistic.
You might wonder why an antagonistic test environment would negatively affect psi performance. I believe it’s because these energies come from a place of love, rather than fear or stress. Also, when there is such a large amount of money at stake, ego gets in the way and impedes the working of psi abilities. Read my interview with Dr. Joseph Gallenberger, Ph.D for his take on this.
That said, I respect a lot of Randi’s work; he has uncovered many fraudulent showmen who were taking advantage of people who were desperate and grieving. I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out, however, when I say that no matter what the evidence, Randi will never accept that psychic phenomena exist. Many people will NEVER believe that psi exists unless they experience it for themselves. Read about psychic Erin Pavlina’s experience with one of her clients and his disbelief.
And this sort of thing works both ways. Alternative medicine advocate and physician, Dr. Deepak Chopra is offering $1 million to anyone (he specifically calls out Randi) who can prove that human consciousness and ideas come from a material/physical process.
Can all the information on your website be validated by science?
No, and that’s all right. Specifically, I don’t believe the information that comes through in either my intuitive readings or my channeled material could ever be validated through the scientific method. So if people end up reading my channeled material for its entertainment value only, that’s still okay. My goal is not to prove that psychic phenomena are real or to change someone’s mind on the issue – it’s to provide information and resources that inspire people to explore the for themselves what is possible.